The Big Apple, The City that Never Sleeps, The Concrete Jungle. It doesn’t matter what you call it, New York City is spectacular. I still remember my first visit to the city back in 2002 and how magical it was. I couldn’t believe I was in the city that I had seen on TV and in movies countless of times. I was so excited about visiting New York City and my experience completely lived up to my expectations. During that trip I decided that at some point in my life I wanted to live in New York and that feeling hasn’t changed. In fact, I think I want to move to New York City more than ever after this last trip.
There’s no other city quite like New York. The combination of its history, cultural diversity, architecture, business sectors, school institutions, public transportation, performing arts, and the shear size of its buildings and landmass make it incredibly unique. This is where dreams are realized and the sky is the limit, both literally and figuratively.
For the first time in my 4 (including this one) trips to the city, I truly felt like I connected with New York. From the moment the train pulled into Penn Station from Newark Airport, I felt like I was part of the city and not in a touristy way. I understood the subway system right away, could navigate myself around the city easily (including being able to give directions to a few individuals on the street!), and really took the time to explore the neighbourhoods instead of the attractions.
It helps that I had plenty of time in New York to go at a slower pace. I had 10 days in total, not including the 4 days I spent visiting Washington D.C, and I had already seen most of the “big” sights on previous trips. I wanted this visit to be more about connecting with the city on a local level and to experience it as closely as a New Yorker as possible. I still visited some sights that can be deemed touristy that are always enjoyable on any trip to the city, including Central Park, Times Square, Rockefeller Centre, and Grand Central Station. But I got to do and see so many things that I hadn’t done on any previous trip. And that’s what makes New York so great, there’s always something new to see and do in the city, making it a perfect repeat destination.
Aside from staying with a friend for a couple of nights at the beginning of my trip, I spent all my nights in a hostel in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I had never been to Brooklyn before and I’m so happy that I did. Brooklyn has developed into quite the trendy and hip place to live. It was only about a 15-minute subway ride into Midtown Manhattan and provided a quieter, more community-minded place to spend my evenings and nights in. Brooklyn was once an area of New York that you “just don’t visit”. But it’s now a revitalized, very sought-after area of the city with stylish cafes & restaurants, waterfront condominiums and million dollar walkups. Though I should mention that the gentrification of the area is happening from west to east and not all of Brooklyn is changing in this way…yet. And just recently (September 28th), the latest addition to the borough opened to much-hype and fan fare, the Barclays Centre, a multipurpose indoor arena that’ll be the home to the Brooklyn Nets and play host to musical acts for decades to come. It also doesn’t hurt when you’re number one endorser and partial owner happens to be the Brooklyn born and raised Jay-Z.
Although I had set out to have a more leisurely experience visiting New York, I still found my days were filled from morning to night exploring. And I walked. I walked and walked and walked so much! I finally saw the Statue of Liberty cruising by on the Staten Island Ferry, I spent a day taking a tour of the East Village and Lower East Side learning about street art and the immigrants who occupied the tenement houses, I went to a Yankees game and ate a very disappointing hot dog (Toronto could teach NY about street meat!), I paid my respects at the 911 Memorial Site, I walked the entire length of the Highline, an above ground rail line that’s been converted into green space, I took a tour of the real Gangs of New York, learning about their formation, businesses, and spots they used to live or frequent, I spent a couple of hours wandering through the incredible New York City Library’s Central Branch, I did a lot of people watching, and the highlight of my trip; walking the length of the Brooklyn Bridge.
This trip was also quite different since I was traveling on my own. I hadn’t traveled on my own since a trip to Peru back in 2008 but it was a welcomed change. I had the freedom to choose exactly what I wanted to do everyday and had no problems changing them if I got tired or the weather wasn’t working in my favour. One thing that I realized about traveling on my own though, I’m not so diligent about taking rest breaks or time to eat food as I would traveling with someone else. A couple of days I realized it was close to 4pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch, or that I had been on my feet for 5 hours and hadn’t sat down yet. With a travel partner, at least one of us would speak up at some point to say, “I need to sit”, or “I’m getting hungry”. On my own I seem to just push through that, or say “after I do this I’ll take a break”.
Even though I traveled on my own, I met up with a couple of friends who are living in the city and I also had some amazing roommates at the hostel. While my days were spent wandering the city on my own, I had people I could meet up with at night to grab dinner and/or drinks with. It was the perfect blend of being on my own, yet not being totally on my own.
September was a great time to visit New York, not too hot, not too cold. Though visiting the city during any other time of the year will present the city in a very different way, especially with the holidays approaching shortly. I’ll always look forward to a trip to New York, and who knows, granted I can find a source of income to pay the very high rental prices in the city, I might just figure out a way to finally live there for a period of time!